On a post-flash world and Adobe's place within it

Published Tuesday, October 4th 2011

Sacred cows in the Adobe world finally appear to be on the BBQ. Recent signals from the tooling company suggest Flash may finally be about to die - and not too soon.

A 3 minute read 800 words

A while back I criticised Adobe's lack of web oriented strategy and in particular it's bloody minded resistance to dropping flash. This was written during Adobe's public spat with Apple as a result of iOS not supporting Flash and with no intent to do so.

As we've seen over the last 12 months, mobile devices are beginning to shape the web. At some point in the not very distant future mobile devices will be the dominant platform for the web - not high end desktop machines packing a lot of memory and quad core processors. As an android user who has flash available on both phone and tablet I concur with Mr Jobs, Flash on mobile devices is a terrible experience. Flash kills battery life and it causes a significant number of crashes. Even on the desktop Flash is responsible for just about every browser crash I experience on a daily basis. Poorly executed flash ads built by junior designer / developers with no review seem to be the worst culprit.

It has been widely speculated that once Flash penetration drops below about 90-95% it will be untenable to continue supporting it within the development community and we are fast approaching that number. Many flash developers I know are looking at cross skilling. Quietly I've noticed the trend of brainstorms and solution sessions being less about "can we do this in the browser using HTML and Javascript?" and more about how far can the HTML 5 and related technologies be pushed. Websockets & JSON are the tools of the real-time; canvas is increasingly the tool of animation and give WebGL another 12-18 months to get some penetration and we'll have 3D in the browser as well. No need for that crashy plugin any more.

Today Adobe have announced to the world not just that they've acquired Nitobi and Typekit but that they are also considering a future devoid of flash or at least one where it is no longer relevant to the mainstay of their product line. These acquisitions highlight the future of the web that Adobe is betting on, in much the same way they bet on the Web a decade ago by purchasing Macromedia.

Nitobi's experience with phonegap brings some serious mobile credentials into the business, especially where the native blurs with the web in a cross-platform manner. Phonegap didn't win the Mobile Web vs Native App war but it won some significant battles and showed manufacturers and developers alike that the web platform was the most viable for cross platform development in most cases - even on the native side. Adobe's purchase of Nitobi should translate into tooling that will help designers and developers build higher quality mobile web and native apps and provide a good, solid revenue stream - it might finally reinvigorate the aging Dreamweaver product line too.

Typekit's purchase is slightly different and marks Adobe's understanding that the web, and in particular HTML and CSS, is the future of digital design. Typekit have done an amazing job in a small space of time, again almost single-handedly proving to the web community that we can have amazing typography online - at a time when web typography had been in the doldrums for nearly a decade. Given Adobe's heritage in this space, this is a wise decision.

On the surface this may not look like a huge revenue opportunity however I wouldn't put it past Adobe to wrap typekit up in some tooling down the line as well as making a play at the agency end of town for one stop font management across domains. There's some opportunity here I think Typekit have touched on but not had the resources to bring to bear. Adobe already has a lot of the design agency relationships and that's a lot of potential revenue opportunities. Also consider that even a $15 a year subscription from 10 million bloggers is a tidy revenue stream.

These acquisitions are a great thing for Adobe. The purchases of Macromedia and Ominture have gone less well than anticipated as behomouth pieces of software were digested by the business. These smaller, more nimble, web oriented businesses will inject some creativity back into Adobe and hopefully some of their culture will rub off on the software giant.

Image, cc Marcin Wichary

A lot of people will lament the swallowing up of two extremely savvy web organisations that have shaped a big chunk of the digital landscape over the last 2 years. Maybe, but I'm quite excited by the potential this brings. With Adobe's resources focussed in these areas, there's a lot more to come from both Nitobi and Typekit and that will only bring benefits to the web - like flash did over a decade ago to bring interaction to the web but whose time is now past.

"On a post-flash world and Adobe's place within it" by ajfisher is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License.

Source for citation: ajfisher.me/2011/10/04/on-a-post-flash-world-and-adobes-place-within-it.